Misunderstood Cormorants

The Devil's Cormorant by Richard J. King
Richard King details the history, biology, and culture of the cormorant in his latest book.

In his new book, The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History (U.P. New England, 2013), Richard J. King, senior lecturer at Williams-Mystic–The Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport, looks at this misunderstood and too often maligned bird. Long a symbol of gluttony, greed, bad luck, and evil, the cormorant has led a troubled existence in human history, myth, and literature.

A mixture of lyrical nature writing and salty adventure stories, The Devil’s Cormorant is an exploration of our literary, historical, cultural, scientific, artistic, political, and often comical relationship with the seabird. The book takes the reader to Antarctica, Bering Island, Peru, Japan, Cape Town, Inishmore Island off Ireland, the Columbia River, the Mississippi Delta, Lake Ontario, and the Mystic River in Connecticut.

Cormorants are one of the only animals that can swim hundreds of feet below the surface, fly thousands of feet high, and migrate for thousands of miles. They live next to nearly every major water body on our planet—fresh or salt, river or ocean, urban or desolate, tropical or frigid. They have been prized as a source of mineral wealth in Peru, hunted to extinction in the Arctic, trained by the Japanese to catch fish, demonized by Milton in Paradise Lost, and reviled, despised, and exterminated by sport and commercial fishermen from Israel to Indianapolis, Toronto to Tierra del Fuego. In The Devil’s Cormorant, King takes us back in time and around the world to show us the history, nature, ecology, and economy of the world’s most misunderstood waterfowl.

About the Author

Richard J. King
Richard J. King

Richard King’s research focuses on the connections between sea voyage narratives and natural history. In addition to The Devil’s Cormorant, he is also author of the interdisciplinary book Lobster (Reaktion/U. Chicago Press, 2011) and is the Series Editor for a forthcoming collection of books about America’s relationship with the sea published by the University Press of New England. King has written numerous popular and scholarly articles, reviews, and interviews in periodicals such as Natural History, Scottish Literary Review, Hemingway Review, Leviathan, and Cruising World. He writes a quarterly column titled “Animals in Sea History” for Sea History magazine. Rich has been sailing on tall ships for more than 15 years, traveling throughout the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as both a teacher and a sailor.

King incorporates creative writing, and the visual and dramatic arts into the Literature of the Sea course at Williams-Mystic. He is a professional illustrator himself, creating ink and watercolor drawings for many of his articles. He has illustrated two children’s books on maritime topics. King also edits the Searchable Sea Literature website which is designed and researched by Williams-Mystic students. He regularly hosts summer research students and encourages undergraduates in any major to contact him about literature of the sea.